Beyond The Park
Three Minute Theatre, Manchester
Lloyd Eyre-Morgan’s new play is his first for two years. It’s another powerful drama exploring very dark adult themes but with his usual great ear for dialogue and sharp characterisation.
It follows his recent adaptations of earlier works Dream On and Celluloid into feature films. Lloyd’s training in the UCLA Film School is very much to the fore as most of the scenes have a cinematic pace and quality to them. Some are very short indeed. This is also clear from the way that time jumps forward quite suddenly at different points. The narrative unfolds over a decade.
Beyond The Park is the story of an unlikely friendship between two boys who meet by the swings in their local park which grows into something deeper. Dom and Craig live at opposite ends of the same Manchester suburb. Craig in the posh part spends more time caring for his mentally fragile Mum than vice versa.
This is in sharp contrast to the set up for Craig which is very much in a brassy working class family group of his sister Kaz, his Mum Vez, and her moody boyfriend Scott.
The unexpected connection is formed as each sees that the other has been damaged by their family situation and this gives them a very strong bond. Dom’s Mum Alison is a writer whose stifling insecurity blights his development.
The dysfunction in Craig’s family is much more twisted and disturbing. In spite, or perhaps because, of all of this, the two manage to develop a close attachment. As they mature, this spills over into love with various ups and downs as each tries to come to terms with their respective traumas.
Other themes on display include the risks of confronting inner demons and wanting the best for the person you love even if that may mean you need space from them.
While this may sound like it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs, in fact there is much humour to leaven the mix. This is largely supplied by sharp-tongued Kaz, superbly played with great comic timing by Gracie Kelly but who also brilliantly shows raw emotion. Her mum Vez is equally feisty and brilliantly rendered by Rebecca-Clare Evans. She is also very moving when she finally realises what has been going on under her nose.
Chris Mawson as Dom engages as the anxious, well-to-do teen and skilfully portrays the difficulty of caring for other troubled souls when you are just discovering who you are yourself.
Lee Lomas gives the role of Craig an endearing vulnerability. He shows a fine emotional range as an actor and the scene where he is comforted by his mum on the bed is particularly touching. Both actors convince as a young gay relationship having none of the unease sometimes seen when such pairings are frankly depicted.
Julie Hannan as Dom’s Mum Alison effectively conveys her fragility but some of the motivation for this character is a little unclear at times. One or two of the staging decisions around Alison also seem a little out of step with the otherwise naturalistic form of the piece.
Gareth Dowd threatens and lours appropriately as Vez’s boyfriend Scott, but his role feels less defined than theirs and this reduces the impact. The risk of building up his character is perhaps that it could be seen as trying to excuse his abnormal behaviour. The difficulty is that, as currently sketched, he may not appear real enough. Given how critical his deviance is to the plot, this is a pity.
The remarkable traverse staging is very effective and an entirely appropriate option, which enhances the intimacy of the themes and performances. The set, though simple, does all that is required and connects both the inner domestic worlds with that of the park’s swings.
This is the first traverse staging this reviewer has encountered at the venue and it is something of a revelation. The strong language, sexual content and occasional violence are always appropriate and never risk being gratuitous.
Once again, Lloyd Eyre-Morgan demonstrates his talent as writer but also in the nuanced performances he coaxes as director from this talented cast. This reviewer is just as convinced, as ever, that Lloyd is destined to delight audiences in mainstream theatres on the evidence of this new play, which is a strong addition to an impressive body of work.
Reviewer: Andrew Edwards